Where Are They Now: Poker's Good Guy, a Survivor, and a Rogue
Whether they’ve been a poker darling, poker rogue, or even a reality show star, PokerNews takes a look at some of the players who have made news in the past and make us wonder, “Where are they now?”
Poker's Good Guy
Poker has been the last thing on Jerry Yang’s mind over the last two years. His life had been on an upswing since March 2015. The 2007 WSOP Main Event champion unveiled his second restaurant, Dynamite Grill, in Las Vegas. His eatery in Merced, California, Pocket 8's Sushi and Grill, had been open six years and was receiving nice reviews from customers. Most of his publicized financial troubles seemed behind him.
The 48-year-old Yang, who had earned $8.25 million for his victory, was working 14 hours a day managing his busy restaurants. He loved serving customers, helping out in the kitchen, and all the duties that come with being a restaurateur and small businessman.
The life had become his passion away from the poker table. The ever-positive Yang was having a great time. Poker was fun, but the restaurants had become a family business – with some of his six kids even pitching in to help.
Only months later, however, Yang’s whole world was shaken. His father was diagnosed with colon cancer. In Yang’s world, his father was anything but an ordinary man. He played not only a major role in Yang’s family and in his siblings’ family, but with his extended family as well. Yang’s father was a key figure in his village growing up, moving them out of Laos during the communist Vietnamese invasion in the 1970s.
Family has always been important and Yang had always wanted to open a restaurant. In his autobiography All In, he described life growing up in Laos when food was scarce before his father helped the Yangs flee to Thailand and eventually to the U.S.
“I grew up poor and very, very hungry, and it was always my dream to open a restaurant,” he said. “I love food.”
But now with a family crisis, poker and the restaurants became secondary.
“Last March I moved him into my home and became a caretaker for my father,” Yang said. “I had to close the restaurant in Las Vegas because I wasn’t there to manage it properly. And then, unfortunately, he passed away.”
Needless to say, poker has been on the back burner and Yang skipped the 2016 WSOP completely. The death made a deep impact on the deeply-religious Yang and his family, but he’s tried to focus his energy on other pursuits. The California restaurant continues to do well, and was named "Best Japanese" and "Best Restaurant" in Merced County for four years in a row. He also invests in real estate on the side.
Yang still loves poker and always saw it as fun – a way for a short guy with limited athletic ability to compete with others. As time passes, he is considering a return to the tables. If he makes it to the WSOP this summer, the champ is considering the Colossus, the Millionaire Maker, and maybe the Tag Team with a friend.
“And I can’t miss the Main Event if I’m there,” he added. “But it really depends on how mentally stable I am. Obviously I don't have my father anymore, and I'm still kind of emotional. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
"I love poker, I miss poker. But like everything else, your mind has to be totally clear."
"I love poker, I miss poker. But like everything else, your mind has to be totally clear and you have to be mentally ready. If you’re not psychologically, mentally and spiritually ready, sometimes even the physical part of it can even hinder your ability or your stamina.”
As he continues to recover from his family’s loss, Yang is planning a way to give back to the area of the world that played such a major part of his early life. Now enrolled in a two-year missionary program, one day he hopes to help others in Laos, Thailand and Vietnam who may have experienced some of the same struggles and hardships he experienced growing up.
“I’m taking classes two days a week,” he said. “When you're working 14 hours a day in a restaurant, that's pretty much all you can do. I'm actually waiting for my kids to grow a little bit older, so maybe my wife and I can become missionaries. That's kind of my goal. That's what I think God wants me to do.”
No doubt, his father would be proud.
It was an interesting 2016 for poker player Anna Khait. The 28-year-old poker-playing New Yorker, now living in New Jersey, was part of CBS’s Survivor: Kaoh Rong cast in spring 2016. The show was set in Cambodia and featured a “Brains vs. Beauty vs. Brawn” theme. She may not have won the $1 million, but this “Beauty” had a great time on her favorite show.
“Survivor has taken a good amount of my time since I got back from filming in May 2015,” she said. “It took some time to get back to normal mentally after Survivor. I’ve done some traveling and meet and greets after the show, which has finally slowed down.”
Over the last year, Khait has traveled to some places on her bucket list including South Africa, a trip she highly recommends.
Away from deserted islands and jungles, Khait says she is working on some projects that “may have something to do with film,” but that she can’t reveal quite yet. Charity has also become a major focus.
Since the show, Khait has also gotten involved with some reality personality charities that focus on children including an anti-bullying charity, Bullies Reality; an anti-drug abuse charity, the Warriors of Purpose Foundation; and Give Kids the World, which aides children with disabilities and illnesses. She was recently scheduled to be part of a high school tour in Nebraska with this last group.
As for poker, Khait is still playing, but it has taken a bit of a back seat. A former regular in the Northeast poker scene at casinos like the Borgata, she still hits the virtual poker felt when possible on PokerStars, Borgata and WSOP.
“I don’t play full time and all day as I used to,” she said. “I usually play poker after dinner, when there is more action anyway. I live in New Jersey, so thankfully I can play from home any time I wish.”
And as the WSOP approaches, Khait has plans to do a bit of bracelet hunting – betting and bluffing for a few weeks in June and then also playing the Ladies Event and the Main Event. Maybe she’ll make a deep run here or there, but she'll certainly need skills to survive.
One of the founders of Absolute Poker returned to the U.S. to face charges in February after several years of self-exile in Antigua. In February, Scott Tom pleaded not guilty in a Manhattan federal courtroom to charges including violating federal Internet gambling laws and engaging in money laundering.
Tom is one of the last to face charges from the Absolute Poker case, and players were only recently able to get some of their money back. For several years, Tom had been living on the Caribbean island and has even been featured in sailing blogs for his business, a small oil tanker converted into a bar and restaurant called D Boat, complete with water slides.
"He was released on a $500,000 bond following a court hearing."
Before being shut down by the feds in 2011, Absolute was the third largest internet poker site open to U.S. players and had taken in about $500 million from U.S. residents, according to the Wall Street Journal. Federal authorities charged 12 defendants in the case, including Tom's stepbrother, Brent Beckley, who pleaded guilty and received a 14-month sentence in 2012.
The entire affair was the subject of the 2013 book Straight Flush by Ben Mezrich. Many poker players charged that the book painted the founders in too much of a positive light after Black Friday and that that they played a major role in misappropriating player funds.
According to the Journal, “prosecutors say the companies tricked banks into processing billions of dollars of illegal internet gambling proceeds through shell companies that appeared legitimate. He was released on a $500,000 bond following a court hearing.”
Tom’s attorney James Henderson told the court he expected to reach a plea deal.
"There's going to be a resolution in this case quickly,” he said.
No deal has yet been announced.
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